Devils are bad guys to a good many

April 03, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

SAN ANTONIO - As soon as Hank Becker hears the question, he immediately sits down near courtside of the Alamodome. This could take some time.

"Why does everybody hate Duke? Because they are some arrogant SOBs," said Becker, 52, a resident of Meriden, Conn. "It started with that Laettner guy. Now we have to hear about how great their fans are. Then they got Dickie V. drooling all over them. They're just a bunch of preppies and yuppies."

And what about Coach K?

"He ... "

Never mind. It might be better to skip that one for now. ...

The Blue Devils have become the New York Yankees and the old Dallas Cowboys. Either you love them or you hate them. Most college basketball fans hate them, and with a passion.

"They have that arrogance," said Trent Plaisted, 17, of San Antonio, who will attend Brigham Young on a basketball scholarship in the spring. "You get tired of the hype. They're so over-hyped. They just think they're so much better than everybody else."

Well, they are.

Duke is playing in its 14th Final Four (the same as UCLA), the 10th under Mike Krzyzewski, and only one fewer than the record of 15 by North Carolina. The Blue Devils have a 64-16 NCAA tournament record under Krzyzewski, have advanced to the Sweet 16 seven straight years and won national titles in '91, '92 and 2001.

They graduate 67 percent of their players within six years of their entering school, so what's not to like?

Isn't that what college is about, graduation?

Duke should be the pre-eminent basketball power. Other teams should want to emulate the Blue Devils because their players earn degrees at one of the most academically challenging universities in the country.

They may have the best coach since UCLA's John Wooden, one who emphasizes hard work, fundamentals and team play.

Instead, fans hate them. Damn those Blue Devils. They've had enough of Duke, Duke, Duke. Even Krzyzewski admits the volume of hate has been turned up to new levels this season. He points to more "in your face" play by the opposition, and how N.C. State's Scooter Sherrill said Blue Devils guard J.J. Redick "acts like he is gay."

Sherrill later apologized, but the damage had been done. The abuse keeps getting worse at every arena.

"It's all about jealousy," said James Peters, 19, of San Antonio while watching Georgia Tech practice yesterday. "If you can't beat them, you might as well hate them. They don't always have great talent, but year in and year out, they always have a great team. Because they're successful, people hate them. Duke epitomizes teamwork."

Fans hate their style.

The Blue Devils are already stereotyped as choirboy snobs. And until this season, they played soft, preferring outside jumpers to grunt work underneath.

Whenever the Blue Devils played, words like "smart," "heady" and "savvy" poured from the lips of commentators as if everyone else were brain dead.

Christian Laettner became the program's top figure from 1990 through 1992. He could hit game-winning shots and had great looks, but didn't mind tap dancing on an opponent's chest if the cheap shot presented itself.

The golden-child image was passed on to Chris Collins, Shane Battier and now Redick, a sophomore who eggs on a lot of hatred by gesturing to the crowd when hitting big three-pointers.

But he has done nothing to earn this right. "Smug" describes him accurately.

Krzyzewski can be a snob, too. At times he is humorous, straightforward and entertaining because of his elegance and charm. But there is also an eccentricity, which led to his program occupying an entire floor of the Schwartz/Butters Athletic Center. It requires thumbprint security to enter.

It might be easier to get to the pope than Coach K.

But he gets McDonald's All-Americas because he can get into living rooms where others coaches can't. On the sidelines, he can be cool, often sitting there with his legs crossed and his index finger on the bridge of his nose.

But Krzyzewski can be the ultimate whiner, which has become a tiring act. If you want to trace the beginning of the real national hatred for Duke, then go back to the 2001 Final Four semifinals in which the Blue Devils beat Maryland, 95-84.

Clearly, Duke was the recipient of several calls by the officials, and a Minneapolis crowd turned on the Blue Devils.

"Coach K, what a phony," said Becker. "Here is a guy that was going to have a terrible season one year, and then he hurts his back and leaves, so the losses don't go on his record. The TV guys portray him as some saint, but Bobby Knight was his mentor, what does that say? The guy whines all the time."

Greg Stephens, 46, a high school basketball coach from Decatur, Ga., said: "Getting calls comes with the territory. Whining doesn't get him all the calls, but he gets his share."

It's all about wins and image. Duke's image has been pounded into our heads for years by ESPN commentator Dick Vitale. Admit it. Sometimes you have to turn down the sound because Vitale becomes unbearable in his praise for Duke.

"The TV guys fawn over Duke," said Joyce Hergenhan of Fairfield, Conn. "Dan Patrick, Jay Bilas, Dickie V., they're all over Duke. They don't say anything about those kids taking that easy sociology major at Duke, and how all of those parents end up with nice jobs down there. There is just as much cheating at Duke as any place else. They talk about the Cameron crazies as if that stuff doesn't go on anywhere else."

They talk about Duke as if the Blue Devils invented basketball. It's little wonder that the Blue Devils have become the Bad Boys of March. They have been painted into a corner, partly by themselves, and partly because of others.

"I think we arouse passion," said Krzyzewski. "We're in a different world. I'm not sure we're in a world many people have been on. We just have to manage it."

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